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News/Business. (2012) The first presidential debate; a look at whether the polls will hold until election day. New. (CC) (Stereo)

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Romney 4, Us 3, John 3, George W. Bush 2, New York 2, America 2, Florida 2, Prickley 2, Mitt Romney 2, Dreyer 2, Ted Kennedy 2, Clinton 2, Mccain 2, Obama 's Veracity 1, Gallup 1, Asia 1, Movey 1, Boston 1, Mitt Romney 's 1, Arizona 1,
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  NBC    The Chris Matthews Show    News/Business.  (2012) The first presidential debate; a  
   look at whether the polls will hold until election day. New....  

    October 1, 2012
    12:00 - 12:30am PDT  

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[captioning made possible by nbc universal] >> in america we celebrate success. >> i never said that the journey would be easy. >> that future is our destiny. >> we are moving forward, america. chris: when he walks onto the debate stage wednesday night, mitt romney will now he's behind. know he needs to catch up. needs to win the night. what can he show of himself that he hasn't shown before and what does he need to show of barack obama that we don't already know? seeing is believing. the three times the debates have changed the lead in a presidential race. each time it was about the words, but also that something else, something that told voters what they didn't know and all of a sudden mattered a lot. and finally, bad numbers. barack obama's ahead in nearly every national poll and battle ground state poll. but what do we really make of the crunchers who say mitt
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romney has just a 1-5 chance to win this election? hi, i'm chris mathews. welcome to the show. with us today, new york magazine's john, trish and kelly and the huffington post's d howard. with just over a month to go for mitt romney, given the polls, the debates may be it. it could change the narrative that has dogged him or cemented. romney has the same urgent must-do list that he at the republican convention. only now could be his last chance. today we're going to look at romney's career, back at his career, at some missteps in past debates and also at some gems from barack obama. first up, first on romney's must-do list, get likable. and avoid this kind of reaction when governor rick perry charged that romney had hired illegal lawn workers. >> i'm speaking. i'm speaking. i'm speaking. i'm speaking. you get 30 seconds. this is the way the rules work here. is that i get 60 seconds. and you get -- >> but the american people want the truth.
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they want -- >> i understand -- >> you say that you knew you had illegals. >> would you please wait? are you just going to keep talking? are you going to let me finish with what i have to say? >> i don't know what it means for the referee for help, but there he was going anderson cooper. chris: what happens if romney goes the opposite that have? comes on highly rehearsed we hear he's really rehearsing, with a highly formal presidential performance that makes it very structured? he can set the tone for a different kind of indictment and performance against the president? >> he's certainly going to try. one thing that the romney team knows is that debates are won and lost in big moments up. don't win on points or not win on points. you win because some moment occurs where you break through and i think they're going to be reaching for that. the risk for him is that he's going to be trying too hard. they think back to their most successful debates, were the ones where in florida, where he was facing newt gingrich, facing mortal distinction and by being aggressive and strong and tough he was able to back gingrich down. i think they're more likely to go that direction than to go stately and formal. chris: i was thinking that have
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movey, "presumed innocent" where harrison ford's character is told, you have to point at that guy and say, he did it. can romney be that strong? do you think that could be coming? >> he has to take a part -- apart some of the things his campaign has been trying to say. that might appeal to those voters who have not been thrilled with the president but have not been converted to romney voters yet. you're going to hear a lot of i think a distilled theme of the country can't afford another four years of the last four years. they know that this is the biggest audience he will have had. the republican convention was important but this is much bigger. and will voters get a chance to see him without some of the care contour? the aggression -- caricature? the aggression, he's got to really sort of have a carefree sense of go for it. and not be too controlled and not hold back too much. chris: that's a great thing. if he comes off as strong as a prosecutor and indicts the president for being dishonest or whatever you hear that's coming,
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how does dough that and become likable? >> what basically mitt romney is going to have to do is to be the skilled, deft, humorous, focused visionary and specific candidate that he's not so far been. don't steal my punch line. and that's the problem that he's got. he's got to do all of these things and show a skill that frankly he hasn't shown. sometimes i think he's in the wrong line of work altogether. however, mitt romney is a winner. and he's a fighter. and he likes to win the deal and close the deal. he knows that these debates, and by the way in talking to the romney people, they view this as a series. they want this to be like a continuing series. like homeland in four parts. and they bant to i think attack -- they want to i think attack at first, deftly if they can, with humor, if they, can set up the idea that president obama doesn't tell the truth on things, about his record, and then build on that to make their
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case for themselves. chris: tough challenge. can they do that and become mr. like snble >> well, i think it even goes being likable. he needs to show he has some empathy for what americans are living through right now. he needs to show sensitivity to this. because they may say, ok this guy understands business. this guy understands wall street. he understands the economy. but does he understand me? and when they go to the voting booth, they want someone who is going to advance their own economic interests. chris: so it's not just about battling with the other guy, it's selling to the audience as well. let's take a look. for his part to keep the likeability advantage he has over romney, the president has to avoid the kind of condescension we saw him exhibit in that debate with hillary clinton. >> he's very likable. i agree with that. i don't think i'm that bad. >> you're likable enough, hillary. no doubt about it. >> thank you. [laughter] chris: that was a bad moment for the president. >> yeah, it was. he was trying a little towel snapping there but he's in the wrong locker room.
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it just didn't work. it came off as the essence of arrogant condescension. and the expression, the body language, everything about it. i'm not really looking at you, i'm writing. and that's the sliver of barack obama's character that he can't afford to show if pressured properly by mitt romney. and you know that the romney campaign is focused on trying to produce that kind of reaction. >> they're trying to produce a moment like that. >> they're trying to get into his head. you can produce a moment of strength on the part of your candidate and a moment of weakness or some exposure of vulnerability on the part of the other side. i think everyone here is aware on the romney team and the obama team, barack obama's not a very good debater. he lost almost every debate that he debated -- chris: what does that mean? >> if you watched him against hillary clinton, that was the worst moment of all. but on every metric. on substance and everything
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else. he did not -- we don't look back on the 2008 primary and say, he beat hillary clinton. chris: let me ask kelly about this. that performance with hillary clinton, she was down. she was defending her basic personality, of who she is. a moment of weakness, he didn't need to dump on her. he needed to show some magazine anymority there. why didn't he respond to that moment? >> looked like he was preparing his next thought and he got drawn into her comment. the skill set for the promise to deliver -- for the president to deliver speeches well is very different than what it takes to debate. the fact that he's on television all the time -- >> he doesn't like to be challenged. this is a guy with supreme confidence in his ability who doesn't like to be questioned and who has held very, very few press conferences. not as few as george w. bush, but very few. >> he can be a little brittle. chris: let's go back to romney's must-do list. as we said, he's prepping to take a knick out of the president's credibility. >> the president tends to, how
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shall i say it? say things that aren't true. and in attacking his opponents, i've looked at prior debates. chris: at the same time romney has to fill in the gaps for his own proposals. he has to avoid this, when his 1994 debate opponent, ted kennedy, secured him for the same vagueness he's been accused of this year. >> what is the cost of your program? >> i don't have a cost. >> you don't have a cost? >> no, i'm sorry. i don't have the -- >> that's interest. >> i don't have the congressional budget office -- >> what will be the cost in terms of the tax incentives that you provide? what will the impact of that on the budget? >> the impact -- i do not know the specific number. >> so you don't know the cost. >> i think it's a wonderful idea to take it through piece by piece and -- >> that's what you have to do with legislation. that's exactly what you have to do with legislation. [cheers and applause] chris: i remember that. that was i think -- kennedy had already started to pick up speed in that campaign but that was the clincher. >> he was on fire there and there were people who gave romney some credit running
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against the formidable ted kennedy and that gave him some experience. i think where you do see that prickley side of romney, we saw it in the primary debates, certainly four years ago we saw it. when he gets prickley, it really reinforces the distance. not the warmth that his friends and associates say he has. chris: question, will he do like some people do, will he come on with a big -- what he thinks are monday morning news story, will he come out with a new idea, do you think? >> i think it's more of a refining the economic message and trying to have a break for the duration of the debate, of all of those distractions things. some of which he brought on himself. the 47% video. and that sort of thing. which may become a part of the debate given the subject matter of that. but to try to really just be him talking to the voters. >> the one thing that unifies his base, the romney base, is disease like of president obama -- dislike of president obama. early voting has already started. 30% of the electorate's going to vote or more during this debate season. mitt romney's got to give his
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people a reason to get excited. and that means attacking barack obama deftly and with humor if he can. chris: i think it will be an assault for an hour and a half myself. >> he needs to get specific, though, when it comes to his economic plan. he talks about all these tax deductions he's going to put forth. how is he going to close the loopholes to make this work? i'm a financial journalist, i want to know. i think american voters deserve to know. chris: the moderate already probably want to know. he's got to ask that question. >> two things. one is that i think it's really strange that they have telegraphed this punch so far in advance on the truth, on obama's veracity. i wouldn't be surprised if they don't do that because they've telegraphed it so far in advance. the thing "boston globe"s a -- obama has to watch, he really has grown to disrespect and dislike mitt romney and there's so many cheap shots that he could take that will not actually work to his advantage. he has to be -- restrain himself from taking the obvious jabs that might actually generate some sympathy for romney. chris: the debate also will challenge president obama to convince voters things could
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have been worse without blaming george b. bush as did he last time. >> one of the things i think we have to recognize is pursuing the same kinds of policies that we pursued over the last eight years is not going to bring down the deficit. and frankly senator mccain voted for 4-5 of president bush's budgets. >> senator obama, i am not president bush. if you wanted to run against president bush you should have run four years ago. chris: there's an example of a well-prepared -- we knew, i'm sure senator mccain knew that was coming. you notice how he did that automatically? this time around it's more dangerous, isn't it? for president obama to blame a guy four years ago. >> yeah, because people are going to say, what did you do lately? you've had four years to fix the economy and look at the economic malaise we're still in. look at the jobs reports. last month, adding 96,000 jobs. not even enough to keep pace with population growth. chris: we put the first debate to the matthews meter. 12 of our regulars, including john, kelly and howard is mitt romney more likely to break through wednesday night on style
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points or on substantive arguments? nine say substance. three say style. you voted with the majority. howard, -- >> well, he's got to do it. again, deftly with humor. but he's got to brace the president. he's got to say, look, you're responsible. you're the economic commander in chief. there has not been nearly enough progress and not what you promised. here are five promises you made. you haven't met any of them. why do you deserve another four years, sir, if you haven't done that? that's the case he's got to make in the first debate. chris: well done. john? style is more important, you say. >> i'm on style because of the notion, you have to have a big moment. romney has been reduced in a lot of people's mind to a caricature, given how horrible he's had these last few weeks. i think a moment of either unexpected strength or unexpected empathy or unexpected humanity is the thing that might make people look anew at mitt romney. not necessarily some argument on the numbers but something where some side of him comes out that
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people have lost over the course of the last year. chris: well said. mitt romney need as debate that could turn the polls around. there have been three presidential years when debates had that effect. turning the gallup poll around. moving the challenger ahead and on to victory. the first was when a cool handsome jack kennedy buried the nervous vice president richard nixon who turned down makeup and sweated uncontrollably. and nixon's image as a loser was driven home by questions like this. >> president eisenhower's asked to give one example of a major idea of yours that he adopted. his reply was, and i'm quoting, if you give me a week, i might think of one, i don't remember. >> i would suggest that if you know the president, that was probably a facetious remark. president president has asked for my advice. i have given it. sometimes my advice has been taken. sometimes it has not. chris: the second time a debate turned things around was ronald reagan's direct appeal to voters in his first and only faceoff with president jimmy carter. >> are you better off than you
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were four years ago? is it easier for you to go and buy things in the stores than it was four years ago? do you feel that our security is as safe? that we're as strong as we were four years ago? chris: after that, the next day's "new york times" told the story of how critical that became. the are you better off question took hold. the third time a debate turned the race around was this first debate between vice president al gore and george w. bush. the vice president hurt himself with his notorious sighs. [sighing] chris: and then in the third debate, this exchange was a killer for gore. >> the difference is that i can get it done. that i can get something positive done on behalf of the people. that's what the question in this campaign is about. it's not only what your philosophy and what's your position on issues, but can you get things done?
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[laughter] and i believe i can. >> what about the norwood bill? chris: never, ever enter your opponent's space. when we come back, another tough tale for mitt romney. why history predicts romney's polls right now give him only a narrow path of winning this election. plus, scoops and prediction
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chris: welcome back. history shows the power of presidential debates that catapulted kennedy from behind to ahead and onto victory. but to do that means getting a clean debate win. enough to change the polls. here's a tough pattern for mitt romney. when the polls have changed from september to october, the incumbent, not the challenger, usually is the one improving. the incumbent has seen polls go up an average of 4.6% while
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challengers have even only an average of 2.5% gains in october. and finally there's very low volatility or changing of minds in recent presidential races. there are only a few truly undecided voters out there. and voters tend to lock in early. specialy -- especially in recent years. if you look at elections since 1996, the polls have not moved much from mid september to election day. the average change has been about 3.7%. even when they get off the fence. a couple of problems for romney. one, the tendency of voters to be hesitant about a big change right before an election. they go back to what they've got. and also this sense of there's not a whole lot of movement any direction. >> and the other thing that's happened is that early voting really has taken on a life of its own and it's no longer just election day as "the new york times" said. it's election month. so a lot of people are voting now, even before the debates have tart -- started. that's number one. number two, the debates generally tend to confirm trends that exist, rather than create entirely new ones. that's why there's so much pressure on mitt romney to do
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something truly dramatic because he is going against the tide of history here. >> yeah, i mean, absolutely agree with howard. there's a lot of pressure right now on mitt romney but it also comes down to just an overall theme that we keep bringing up. that he's got to somehow convince americans that he can make their life better. and right now they don't fully buy it. so there's a lot of pressure on him to do that. chris: so interesting. john? >> i think the early voting thing really matters a lot but it doesn't matter as much as people think. the undecided voters at this point are not early voters. the undecided voters, they're undecided this long, they're -- chris: what are they waiting for? >> i think they're waiting to see these debates and again, these are really important moments. the only other thing about the historical trends is they're really important guideposts but no incumbent has been elected with an unemployment rate over 8% and barack obama's on track to get re-elected. things are true until they're not true anymore. >> i think that mitt romney's challenge is enormous. but doable, his people believe,
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if he can come off as a credible alternative, someone people can live with for four years. because we live with our president. and that makes it such a personal choice. chris: scoops and predictions [ female announcer ] now you don't have to give up. you can give in with dreyer's slow churned light ice cream. we churn it slowly for all the rich and creamy taste with just half the fat. so now you can have your ice cream and it eat it, too.
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you can give in with dreyer's slow churned light ice cream. we churn it slowly for all the rich and creamy taste with just half the fat. so now you can have your ice cream and it eat it, too. chris: welcome back. tell me something i don't know. >> romney's campaign spent millions of dollars running these welfare ads that were dishonest but had a chance of really hurting the president with white working class voters. i've seen some private polling in the swing states in the last
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few days. obama's ahead by 10 points on the welfare issue, even with a lot of white working class voters. wasted money by the romney campaign. didn't get anything done for the middle. >> whoever wins this election is going to have a very tough four years ahead of them. 2013 is looking more and more likely. like we could fall back into a recession. a growing number of our economists are saying this. you have problems in asia, problems in europe. it all adds up to problems for us. >> looking at one of the key senate races. connecticut, a blue state where a republican is doing better. and in part because she has spent the time since she lost in 2010 doing a lot more direct contact with voters. voter events, something she really didn't do the first time around. chris: she's from the wrestling family. i think she's going to win. >> the obama campaign has focused a lot on veterans an they're shrewd to do so and it may help in the senate as well. the democrat who is a trauma doctor and a vietnam vet is running in arizona on the veterans issue and has pulled to a tie in that senate race. chris: when we come back, the
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question of the week for us. paul showing seniors in swing states backing president obama paul showing seniors in swing states backing president obama make
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chris: welcome back. new polls out just this week have seniors facing president obama on medicare. a signature issue of mitt romney's runningmate paul ryan which brings us to this week's big question. was mitt romney's choice of ryan mass take? >> yes. -- a mistake? >> yes. >> i don't think so because it brought renewed focus and attention on the economy and debt which may have helped him in some camps. >> good for the future of the party, not so helpful necessarily this time around. even though he's a very cale capable politician. i think rob portman in ohio becomes a question. he could have helped in ohio, perhaps you could argue that and ohio is really something romney needs. >> he forced the seniors to think about what they like about medicare and the welfare state and they decided they liked it. and that's -- chris: that's well said.
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i hear doctors, the people don't -- they get very nervous when you talk about changing their insurance. >> even if you say it only applies to people under 55. >> the pick hurt him in florida and didn't help in ohio and he's got to win those states to be president. chris: i think ryan hurts. thanks for a great round table. congratulations to hbo and to you for those four emmys for "game change" based on your great book. that's the show. thanks for watching. see you back here next week.
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